The farmer brings his crop to harvest and that is gratifying. He knew "when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." (Mark 4:29) If you wait too long to harvest or start the harvest too soon, the crop is ruined and the resulting produce isn’t as good as it would have been at full maturity. With a garden there is just the right time to harvest, and in ministry we begin to see results when 'the harvest has come', too.
Sometimes we don’t get to harvest what we plant. Paul talks about this when he says “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) The important thing is that God’s Kingdom advances. Max Lucado has a story about the donkey Christ rode, saying we each have a donkey (talent) that will move the Kingdom down the road.
Our part in the broad spectrum of ministry may be just a small part. We may just be the sower or we may cultivate or water. Others may do the actual harvesting. Many of the ancestors of our faith didn’t see the results of their faithful lives. Paul and the other Epistle writers would never have expected that their words, simply letters to new churches, would still inspire us 2000 years later. Abraham had to believe God’s promise of a multitude of nations, but he never saw it. Moses brought the people through the wilderness but did not get to enter the Promised Land. More modern prophets and pioneers like Dorthea Day, Julian of Norwich, Henri Nouwen and others all planted seeds still providing fruit now.
In the same way, we cannot take credit for any ‘success’ of the harvest. Rather we can only say, “I did my duty” and then we will hear the Master Gardener say, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)
Looking at this Parable of the Growing Seed has given me some insight into my responsibility as one of God’s farm laborers. There are similarities between farming and doing ministry. Both are ‘things we do while breathing.’ Both require preparing, sowing, and tending in order to bring in a fruitful harvest. In the process we will be pruned and changed in order to be more fruitful. This pot of flowers on my deck is a reminder that pruning is necessary for new growth.
On the 4th of July a friend came over for dinner. She looked at the overgrown plants in this pot and asked if she could prune them. "They might bloom again," she promised and sure enough, after pruning the dead growth off, they immediately bloomed.
God is always pruning the dead growth out of our lives and gardens. Even if we don’t see the result of our work, we can trust in God who gives us this promise in Jeremiah 29: 11-13: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.”
The result of faithful ministry work is that the Kingdom of God is presented and God's love is shared. The fruit of our ministry will not necessarily be big and obvious, but it should be changed hearts and lives (our own and those we meet). We can plant and cultivate and water the ministry we believe we are called to do, remembering only "God can give the increase". It is our task simply to use our talents, as we are able, to cultivate fruit for the Kingdom, first in our lives and then help others to be more fruitful!
Next time, we’ll start a new series of meditations.